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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 20.07.2019, 17:03

Latvian bioeconomy: challenges, perspectives and solutions

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 13.05.2019.Print version
Bioeconomy’s share in Latvian GDP has reached already about 15 per cent. But the sector has huge potentials both in the national structural development and in its regional transformation. And the sector’s role will increase in the future: hence the attention to biomass’ exploration and management, as well as to educational issues in bioeconomy and sustainability policy.

Recent international conference, which took place in the Latvian Zemgale region “Bioeconomy and Rural Development” supported by the EU’s Social and Regional Development Funds has gathered in Jelgava over hundred participants from about 15 countries, including Latvian decision-makers and members of European Parliament. The conference discussed three main issues: the general aspects of a modern bioeconomy’s policy and practical implementation in Latvian growth strategy; innovations in the bioeconomy’s sector; and educational issues.


In the conference’s opening addresses, Aigars Laizans, Latvian University of Life Science and Technology’s vice rector and Dace Vilmane, head of the regional planning department underlined that Latvian goo-physical “conditions” provided sufficient impetus into Latvian bioeconomy’s sector. Already at present, agro-land covers 35% of the Latvian territory and forests -about 47%. As to the Zemgale region - one of five regions in Latvia – the “bio-component” sufficiently dominating in the regional development, including agriculture, forestry and wood processing, as well as food production, tourism, etc.


Latvian European Parliament members, described the role of science and innovation in the EU integration and in Latvian growth: about € 80 billion from the EU budget during last five years has been devoted to research (Inese Vaidere); employment opportunities in the digital society and bioeconomy was underlined by Latvian MEP Roberts Zile. Biotechnology development is constantly growing: since 2012 the sector increase four times (!).


Participants from other EU states featured various aspects of bioeconomy’s perspectives for Latvia and for the EU in general: sustainable development strategy’s implementation in Latvia (Eugene Eteris, Denmark), sustainable resources management (Arne Bardalen, Norway), and bioeconomy’s potentials in Lithuania (Vilija Alekneviciene, Lithuania).


During the discussions, (eloquently moderated by Daina Vasilevska) the participants acknowledged that bioeconomy sector in the EU-28 has an annual turnover of about € 2 trillion; the sector employs more than 22 million people, which is approximately 9% of the total EU workforce.


However, there are some issues which need clarifications, for example, in the conceptual sense. In the beginning of 2012 (when the bioeconomy’s idea was coined in the EU policies), the EU Environment Agency defined bioeconomy as the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion (including waste management) into numerous value added products in food and feed sectors, bio-based products and in bio-energy.


Source: European Environment Agency, "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: Bioeconomy for Europe" (2012), in: https://www.eea.europa.eu/policy-documents/innovating-for-sustainable-growth.  


Though globally, according to the UN FAO, bioeconomy is “the knowledge-based production and utilization of biological resources, biological processes and principles to sustainably provide goods and services across all economic sectors”.

Source: FAO Sustainable Bioeconomy Guidelines, in: http://www.fao.org/energy/bioeconomy/en/.     

 

Whereas, bio-based economy- as well as bioeconomy and bio-techonomy- according to the popular Wikipedia, includes all economic activities derived from scientific and research activity focused on bio-technology. In other words, it is about understanding mechanisms and processes at the genetic and molecular levels and applying this understanding to creating or improving industrial processes.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biobased_economy.   

 

Bottom-line: common denomintors are: a) production of renewable biological resources and their conversion (including waste management) into numerous value added products in food and feed sectors, in bio-based products and in bio-energy; b) biological processes in sustainable goods and services across all economic sectors; c) scientific and research activity focused on bio-technology. Probably the EU’s approach is uniting all these factors: for example, in the EU science and research program (Horizon-2020), there is a special research field called “Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry; marine, maritime and inland water research, and the bio-economy”.

 


Activating the bioeconomy political economy

The EU states’ activities in elaborating and implementing biostrategies are still far from being optimal: thus, only seven states have adopted so far bioeconomy strategies (Finland, Latvia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Ireland); six states states are in the process (Austria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the UK); and seven states in the EU’s eastern part plan to develop such strategies under the EU Bio-Eeast initiative (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia); over 50 EU regions have bioeconomy-related strategies and almost all EU regions foresee research and innovation in their RIS3 (according to the CoR’s Opinion). 


Latvian bio-strategy’s goals (bioeconomy strategy for 2030 was adopted in 2017) is divided into three main elements and is aimed at increasing: a) employment in the national bioeconomy sectors to at least 128 thousand people; b) a bio-value added component in aspects the final bioeconomy products and services to at least 3,8 bn EUR by 2030 from a present  2 bn EUR; and c) the share of bioeconomy products in the national export to at least 9 bn EUR by 2030 from a previous 4 bn.


More about Latvian bieconomy strategy 2030 “Informativais sinojums Latvias Bioeronomikas strategija 2030”, in: http://ejuz.lv/jah.

         

It seems, the participants noticed, that although the “universal” SDGs do not contain the bioeconomy’s concept, one goal (SDG-12) indirectly refer to the use of biological resources. And that’s true: the SDG-12, in fact “ensures sustainable consumption and production patterns” in the following way: “Economic growth and development require the production of goods and services that improve the quality of life. Sustainable growth and development require minimizing the natural resources and toxic materials used, and the waste and pollutants generated, throughout the entire production and consumption process”. Thus, ultimate goals are the following: by 2030, the states have to a) achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources; b) reduce by half per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses; c) ensure that people have relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature. 


References to: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html  

 


Teaching bioeconomy and SDGs

The participants of the second session “Innovations in the bioeconomy sector and higher education”, (moderated by Aigars Laizans) stressed that the success of implementing both bioeconomy and SDGs depended, first of all at the ability at states’ education policies to accommodate these two issues into the states’ educational process. The bioeconomy’s teaching shall be divided among several education policy’s levels: schools, colleagues, higher education institutions (general and special), etc.


Presently, teaching and training in bioeconomy today’s youth means providing contemporary skills to tomorrow’s policy- and economy- decision makers, giving them the necessary basic knowledge on modern 4th industrial revolution challenges coped with system-thinking and critical approaches to complex socio-economic problems.


Therefore, both existing education institutions and teaching methods shall be re-assessed fundamentally according to the following guidelines: higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills; the teaching methods shall be adapted to the needed general and professional skills to practically implement bioeconomy tasks in the transformed socio-economic policies. Long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be available through people’s life span. All national middle- and high- education institutions shall provide valuable examples for teaching future decision-makers providing them with the necessary bioeconomy’s skills.  


For example, cross-sectoral approaches to syllabus and curricular shall have a cross-faculty approach to a new knowledge-system to include SDGs components and bioeconomy;s thinking. Besides, the following aspects shall be considered: to “teach the teachers” about the SDGs and bioeconomy’s requirements; develop new e-learning skills; developing partnerships with other universities teaching bioeconomy and SDGs; providing coordination among national political, economic, business, cultural and educational authorities to facilitate the bioeconomy’s priorities in national planning and management, as well as an exchange of positive practices.  

See, e.g.: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20181106131352348.  

 

Teachers are the most important resource in modern education processes; thus, “investment in teachers” is having significant returns: research shows that being taught by the best teachers can change lives and improve education that universities provide.


Improving the effectiveness of schooling depends, in large measure, on ensuring that competent people work as teachers, that their teaching is of high quality. 


Source: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/effective-teacher-policies_9789264301603-en  


Using biomass potentials

Latvian present political economy is fully aware about modern bioeconomy’s potentials, in particular biomass opportunities. Latvian and European biomass industry is facing a new set of policy and regulations for biomass’ handling, storage and management, as well as investment opportunities in biomass energy sector. In business there are opportunities for the “biomass to power” and biomass conversion developments (mainly, in stimulating and transforming the biomass industry). 


Particular attention shall be devoted to biomass' role in the nation’s renewable energy: using different types of biomass for fuel and sustainably transferring biomass to energy.


For example, the European biogas market is set to witness strong growth on account of growing focus toward decarbonizing the energy sector supported by policy’s decisions and legislation. Increased production and use of biogas to support the circular economy and renewables in the national energy mix will favor growth in Latvian regions. According to recent report by Global Market Insights, Inc. European biogas market is expected to reach 6 bn USD by 2025. The World Biogas Association estimates that by 2020, the biogas sector in some EU states has already shown advantages: e.g. in the Netherlands the sector produced 1.2 billion m3 of biogas or 0.75 billion m3 of bio-methane, increasing to 3.7 billion and 2.2 billion m3 respectively by 2030 (Green Gas Forum, 2014). Significant growth is expected in biogas from manure, sewage sludge, grass and seaweed.


The perspectives and recommendations

The conference’s organizing committee's editorial board summarized discussions and opinions and formulated some recommendations for Latvian politicians and decision-makers. Among most interesting have been the following: a) making sustainable development and bio-economy the integral part of national and regional growth patterns; b) finding “specialization niches” in managing bio-resources in Latvian regions (including Zemgale); c) in the education sector – organizing training courses/ master classes for decision-makers on bio- and sustainability trends (specifically at the Latvian agricultural university), as well as to the Latvian “teaching community”; d) establishing a kind of “Eco-bio-Hippocratic oath” for students in agricultural studies and sustainability; e) making Jelgava a CO2 neutral city by 2050.  






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